Coronavirus is the new normal—app use is changing in response

By John Koetsier March 16, 2020

James Ren leaves his apartment once every three days. He hasn’t seen his family or friends in weeks. All his business happens by WeChat and Zoom and Slack. And email, of course. This is the new normal with coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Ren is Singular’s top sales executive in China. He’s a veteran of the adtech and martech space, having spent three years with ironSource and another two with a global mobile performance marketing agency. He’s not infected with the virus—Beijing has remained relatively untouched. But he’s never experienced anything like this.

And it’s having a massive impact on the apps and tools that people are using.

For one thing, usage of remote working software is way up. Mobile and desktop gaming is so popular with schools closed and kids at home that some of the most popular ones have experienced downtime as usage skyrockets. And internet usage jumped 30% in places like Italy, where anyone who can work remotely is staying home.

Massive changes in multiple nations

“Because of coronavirus, the government decided to extend the national holidays to two weeks,” Ren says. “All I do is actually talk with my clients on instant messengers or through phone calls because most of my clients are working from home.”

That’s caused massive spikes in remote work and collaboration apps.

DingTalk, an enterprise communication and collaboration platform from Alibaba, went from about two million installs in January to over 12 million in February, according to Apptopia. WeChat Work tripled its January install rates in the same period, and Tencent Conference install rates exploded from the low six figures to almost eight million in a single month.

In Italy, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams have all had huge spikes in growth. Medical apps like Medical ID are also hitting the charts as most-downloaded apps. Streaming video apps are up, as people have more free time.

Apparently that’s what happens when millions of people need to work from home very suddenly. Especially in a country like China where a huge majority of digital play and work is done via mobile devices, not desktops or laptops.

For Ren and others impacted by quarantines and shutdowns, social distancing is the mantra. And that means leaving his apartment just once a day for 30 minutes and once every three days for grocery shopping. Other than that, he’s online working or online playing.

Expected impacts: the new reality of work and school

This might be a sign of what other countries should expect—including the United States, where most tech companies are now asking employees to work from home.

Clearly, how we buy and live is changing in real-time. And what Ren is reporting from Beijing is likely a preview of what many others might be experiencing very soon in other countries:

  • Learning: Teachers are delivering classes online
  • Meeting: Colleagues are video conferencing with solutions from companies like Zoom, ByteDance, Alibaba, and Tencent
  • Communicating: Colleagues, friends, and families are almost exclusively using WeChat and other messaging tools to stay in touch
  • Shopping: People are buying even more things online and via mobile, since they can’t go shopping
  • Delivering: Businesses and people are ordering everything via on-demand apps, expecting to get everything delivered, since they can’t easily leave their homes
  • Gaming: People are spending more and more time on games since they have so much spare time: no commuting, and limited school/work opportunities

“Right now we have seen some very specific industries [that] are thriving,” Ren says. “Deliveries, eCommerce, these kinds of food delivery services are really thriving … we have millions of restaurants open for business, but they are not able to let the customer walk in and dine in.”

None of this is precisely new, of course. These changes are consistent with recent trends in commerce, convenience, and—in terms of work and career—location independence. But coronavirus or COVID-19 is taking these existing trends and amplifying them to eleven.

And, importantly, vastly increasing the velocity of change.

And that means trouble.

Not shockingly, hundreds of millions of people suddenly needing to transact all their business via digital platforms has had an impact. WeChat crashed. DingTalk reported a disruption in service. Microsoft Teams saw a 500% jump in usage. Zoom added more new users in the first two months of 2020 than it did in all of 2019.

That means on-demand services, digital networks, and remote collaboration tools need to bulk up resources and capacity to meet demand. And they have to do it quickly.

Getting through these times

Of course, we all hope that this is precautionary and temporary, and that we’ll be able to get back to normal living—and working—soon. Ren thinks that will happen. And, he thinks, normal life with normal activity, travel, meetings, and social interaction will resume.

“The primary goal for the Chinese government … is definitely to fight hard to contain the virus completely,” he says. “I think things will go back to normal because this isn’t really how the world operates or runs, you know, completely on the internet. That’s not how we actually live our lives. It’s impossible not to go back.”

Hopefully that is true. And hopefully that will happen soon, as doctors find and distribute vaccines and treatments for coronavirus/COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Singular employees at all of our offices around the world are working from home, keeping the lights on, and ensuring our services stay reliable and online.

Stay safe!

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